News / Africa

Somalia’s Insurgents Turn Ivory into Big Export Business

A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of ivory tusks discovered at the Port of Mombasa in July 9, 2013.
A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of ivory tusks discovered at the Port of Mombasa in July 9, 2013.
William Eagle
The African Union’s increased military presence in Somalia has recently succeeded in as many as a dozen communities once held by al-Shabab, the al-Qaida affiliate seeking to create an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa.  
 
Al-Shabab’s years-long Somalia insurgency has been funded by various enterprises, including massive exports of charcoal to the Middle East. But in 2010, Andrea Crosta of the non-profit Elephant Action League began hearing rumors of al-Shabab’s well-organized ivory purchase and export operation. Two years later, Crosta and an Israeli colleague, Nir Kaldron, hired a translator and began a year-long inquiry centered in Nairobi.
 
“We started these investigations mostly under cover,” says Crosta. “We met dozens and dozens of people, poachers, small traffickers, big traffickers, even ex-warlords, mostly connected to Somali society both in Kenya and Somalia. And slowly we built this very worrying puzzle. And we understood that al-Shabab rightfully started a great opportunity.”
 
Crosta and Kaldron slowly gained the confidence of many involved in an illicit trade that extends throughout the region. They secretly recorded conversations about al-Shabab’s trafficking operations. The investigations revealed the carefully defined business perspective of an organization that has waged war against western and democratic influences in the Horn of Africa.
 
Rebels discover a good business opportunity
 
“They understood, of course, that the price was rising and rising in Asia and the demand was, well, so there was a great business opportunity,” says Crosta. “And they started to act as buyers, basically.
 
Andrea Crosta describes al-Shabab's ivory commerce, and more
Andrea Crosta describes al-Shabab's ivory commerce, and morei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
 
“Unlike other armed groups and terrorist groups in Africa involved with poaching, al-Shabab does not really poach the elephant, kill the elephant. They act as buyers, as very good buyers.
 
“Slowly, we understood there were about one to three tons of ivory getting onto Somali through al-Shabab every month, so we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits every month.”
 
  • Somalia's Islamist jihadists emerged as merchants in the illegal trade of elephant ivory from the Horn of Africa, according to undercover investigators. Surrounded by well-armed bodyguards for a 2008 press conference, spokesman Sheik Muktar Robow Abu Mansur vowed increased attacks against a struggling goverment force and its foreign supporters.
     
  • A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of an elephant tusk at a display of more than 140 confiscated pieces of ivory outside the Port of Mombasa's police station on July 9, 2013. Shabab continues to smuggle large quantities of ivory by dhow to larger vessels anchored off Kenya's and Somalia's coasts.
  • Al-Shabaab fighters brandish surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry during an Octoer, 2010 miliary exercise in Mogadishu. In addition to illicit ivory sales, Shabab has been financing their war against the western-backed government with charcoal exports to the Gulf Arab states with sales that have been banned by the United Nations.
  • Kenya security stand guard over Tang Yong Jian, a Chinese national who pleaded guilty in the dock of the Makadara Law courts in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, January 28, 2014. Tang, 40, was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport in Nairobi trying to smuggle 3.4 kilograms of raw ivory to Giuangzhou, China. His punishment was $233,000 or seven years in prison.
  • Much of Shabab's ivory trades is centered in Kenya. In 2102 the World Wildlife Fund invited religious leaders of many faiths in Kenya to gathered at the site of a previous government burning of elephant tusks to pray for an end to the slaughter.
     

As the African Union military mission to drive the militants out of Somalia gains momentum, they shut down the insurgency’s access to major ports. But al-Shabab has demonstrated an ability to adapt. They buy ivory and rhino horns from Kenya and neighboring central African countries. They ship the tusks from variety of ports by skiff to Iranian, Korean and Chinese ships anchored in the Indian Ocean. Some skiffs even originate, Crosta says, in ports AU-controlled areas on the coast and even in Kenya.
 
“They just had to readjust themselves logistically because they still control a large part of the Somali countryside and the traffic is still going on. They just use different ports and exit points.”
 
Their trafficking chain many helping hands
 
“Do not forget,” Crosta says, “they also have a lot of power also in Kenya and it is connected to a lot of businessmen and traffickers who actually provide funds for al-Shabab. So, even ivory collected in Kenya and then leaving Kenya from the Mombasa port, for example, might be connected to al-Shabab.”
 
The league’s report was published in spring of 2013, but didn’t receive much attention until after the devastating al-Shabab attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi last year that took the lives of more than 60 civilians.
 
More recently, Crosta founded a whistle-glower organization to encourage improved intelligence-gathering on poaching in many countries. However, Crosta says he has also gained a wider perspective on problems created by poaching and efforts to contain it.
 
“Everybody is talking, of course, about elephants,” Crosta says. “You might talk about rangers dying sometimes, but actually the human toll is much, much wider. It is about rangers, it’s about thousands of poachers losing their lives every year, leaving behind very large families with orphans and widows. And now you also have armed gangs and terrorist groups and the human toll of the ivory trade.”
 
Too many victims to count
 
Crosta is concerned also about the larger economic and political tendencies that perpetuate poaching and the consequences for the communities that surround Africa’s poorly protected game reserves. The puzzle Crosta talks about now is more complex than identifying who is killing Africa’s elephants. While poachers may be viewed as predators, Crosta asks that the public look more closely at the Africans who kill these animals.
 
The Elephant Action League wants to call attention to the widespread human devastation.
 
“You have armed gangs of very dangerous person but you and you have poor local people,” he says. “One elephant with nice pair of tusks represents a few years of salary for someone who has no salary and maybe 10 people waiting at home for him.  So you can imagine the temptation.
 
“It is also about them. It is about widows, it’s about orphans, it’s about children who become child soldiers, about officers and judges getting bribed. It’s about the weapon that is bought to kill an elephant and is later used to rob a bank. It’s about a lot.”
 
Tanzania’s rangers stray from their target
 
In Tanzania, where poachers have killed large numbers of elephants, an all-out anti-poaching crackdown called Operation Terminate last year resulted in a sharp reduction in elephant kills: only two elephants died. But the wildlife success led to monumental political failures and the kind of lawlessness and human

But the moral cost was high as security units operating under a shoot-to-kill policy were accused of killings, torture and rape during the anti-poaching campaign. A parliamentary inquiry revealed the murder of 13 civilians, arrests of over 1,000 people and other abuses by members of the operation, which included soldiers, policemen, game rangers and forestry officers.
 
President Jakaya Kikwete sacked four top ministers and asked for foreign governments’ guidance on a better way to save the wildlife they depend on for much-needed tourism revenues.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More